Mosaic of the Valles Marineris hemisphere of Mars projected into point perspective, a view similar to that which one would see from a spacecraft. The distance is 2500 kilometers from the surface of the planet, with the scale being .6km/pixel.

This activity is related to a Teachable Moment from Nov. 15, 2018. See "NASA’s ‘Cyber Monday’ Mars Landing to Deliver Science Firsts."

› Explore more on the Teachable Moments Blog

Overview

Students will use satellite and rover images to learn about the various features and materials that cause color variation on the surface of Mars. They will then use their knowledge to color a line drawing of Mars and add relief features using glue and powdered minerals. Students will be able to explain their choice of colors and minerals based on Mars minerology.

Materials

Management

  • If at all possible, use actual powdered mineral samples. Consider contacting a local rock and mineral club or university geology department to inquire about sources or donations.
  • Put each powdered mineral sample in a wide-mouth plastic container with a spoon for dispensing.
  • To control waste, have an adult sprinkle student-selected mineral powder carefully over glue lines placed by students. Immediately pour excess powder back into the container it came from.
  • Prepare a sample of the finished product to show students.
  • Multicultural crayons are a subset of the usual crayon colors that happen to be very much like the colors that are seen on Mars. A regular crayon set may be used, but be sure students know that not all colors are to be used on realistic interpretations of the Mars surface.

Background

Mars, known as the Red Planet, is a mostly dry and dusty place. A variety of colors can be seen on the surface, including the predominant rusty red the planet is known for. This rusty red color is iron oxide, just like the rust that forms here on Earth when iron oxidizes – often in the presence of water. Some places on Mars are bright white with ice or silica deposits and other places are any of a wide variety of colors between white and rusty red. The array of colors we see on Mars is a result of mineral diversity – different minerals have different colors – just like on Earth. In images, some regions appear to have different colors because of shadows, reflected sunlight or even seasonal changes, such as the appearance of permafrost and flow features. This activity gives students an opportunity to learn about features on Mars and the colors of common minerals by observing colors in images and wondering about the causes.

Procedures

  1. Ask students what they know about Mars. Answers will vary. Explain that today we will learn more about Mars, especially the colors we see in images of the planet.
  2. Use the slideshow, “Mars Mineralogy: What Causes the Colors You See?” to guide the discussion. Use questions and explanations in the “notes” section of the slideshow to involve students in the discussion. Alternatively, to save time, show this video for a brief overview.
  3. After completing the slideshow, distribute a Mars mineralogy coloring sheet to each student.
  4. Explain that students will be creating realistic “Marscapes,” representing various colors seen on Mars. Ask what colors we should use. Answers should include a variety, such as white, beige, browns and rusty red.
  5. Show students the mineral powders and discuss the various colors. Explain that they will be using these to create “relief” or raised features on their Marscapes. Show an example of a finished product and explain that a bead of glue along with mineral powders created the relief features. Explain that the coloring should all be done first.
  6. Distribute the multicultural crayons and have students color their Marscapes, giving consideration to actual colors on Mars.
  7. Once they are done coloring, have students use glue to create relief features (along dark lines on the coloring sheet or free-form anywhere on the coloring sheet).
  8. While the glue is still wet, sprinkle powdered minerals of students’ choice onto their Marscapes, one color at a time, pouring excess back into the container.
  9. Set the Marscapes aside to dry.
  10. Have each student write a few sentences about their Marscape and something they learned about Mars. They should answer the question, “What do the colors represent?”

Assessment

Ask students to describe their reasons for choosing the colors they did for each part of their Marscape. Ask them to identify the minerals represented by the various colors.

Extensions

  • Show students images of other solar system bodies and ask them to describe the colors they see. Explain that just as color on Mars is created by various minerals, colors everywhere are determined by physical (chemical) makeup.
  • Have students investigate and report on the mineral/chemical makeup of other solar system bodies.

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